Author Archive

Language Learning – Working on More Languages

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

My recent study list has been mostly languages – Chinese (Hoisanva aka Taishanese), Korean, Spanish, Dutch, Irish, and Russian. I have yet to add German and Japanese to that.  Technically, I’m bilingual as I’m able to speak and understand English and my dialect of Chinese (which is a weird mix of Taishanese and Cantonese due to my parents’ upbringing). I studied French in the past for ten years (though it’s rusty now). When I get around to studying Japanese, it will be my tenth language! :-)

I’ve resigned myself to learning Mandarin Chinese at some point, which is quite different from my Taishanese dialect. Cantonese is very similar, but there is still enough differences to Taishanese to make Cantonese somewhat challenging. If one counts Cantonese and Mandarin separately as languages and not just dialects, I might be able to speak and understand twelve languages. :-o

Some links:
Learn Taishanese
Studying Korean 한국어을 공부해요 – Some Sources for Beginners

Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’ve never read a zombie apocalypse novel, World War Z is the one to read.

The above statement can be considered a little biased since this is the first zombie apocalypse book I’ve read. It’s also maybe a little unfair considering there hasn’t been a huge amount of zombie literature prior to the new millennium (likely the reason why this is the first zombie apocalypse book I’ve read). If the list on Wikipedia is accurate and up-to-date, it appears zombie literature has increased since the new millennium began. There weren’t a lot of contenders for “Best Zombie Apocalypse Novel” prior to the publication of World War Z (Note: I’m not including the various Resident Evil novels because the series didn’t start out from a novel, but are based on the first video game of the same name; Resident Evil also consists of a series of movies. It’s also a little unfair to compare one small book to a whole series about a zombie apocalypse, especially a series as popular as Resident Evil.)

In contrast, there has been a significant amount of zombie films prior to the new millennium. (See “List of zombie films”.) Probably the most influential movies on that list are Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, both written and directed by George A. Romero. Of the two movies, Dawn of the Dead more directly shows the apocalyptic effects of a zombie outbreak. Would it be fair to judge Brooks’ novel against a movie? Perhaps. In fact, Brooks was inspired by George A. Romero’s works (as indicated in Brooks’ “Acknowledgments”: “a final thank-you to… and, of course, the genius and terror of George A. Romero”)

World War Z is written from the perspective that the zombie apocalypse has already happened. That we survived the apocalypse is certain from the very beginning of the book. How did we survive though? What were the key factors that brought about the survival of humanity? Most importantly, what are the feelings of those who survived? In order to answer these questions, Brooks decided that the best way to achieve this was to have each of the various survivors narrate their stories. The format of the novel is not a straight narrative from only one or a few persons. The format of the novel is a compilation of stories, with a little introduction from the person who compiled the stories. The identity of the compiler is never revealed. It’s only revealed that the compiler worked for the “United Nations Postwar Commission Report”, perhaps as an investigator. This is intentional though. Since the novel is written from the perspective that the zombie apocalypse already happened and that the most important stories are those of the survivors, there is no need for the reader to know more about the compiler of the stories. As written in the chapter, “Introduction”:

This is their book, not mine, and I have tried to maintain as invisible a presence as possible… I have attempted to reserve judgment, or commentary of any kind, and if there is a human factor that should be removed, let it be my own.

Since the compiler could not have the bulk of the survivors stories in the report’s final edition, a separate book was published where he did not have to remove the “human factor” in the survivors’ narratives.

The compilation of the narratives was then divided into sections, which are essentially the chapters in the novel. Thus, the novel starts with “Introduction” followed by “Warnings” and ending with “Good-byes”. “Introduction” gives the reader a bit of background into the compiler of the narratives as mentioned above, but also serves to give the reader a bit of background to the world after the zombie apocalypse. The chapters “Warnings” through to “Good-byes” give the reader the flow of the overall narrative of the story. We first read about the beginnings, then the mass panic followed by narratives detailing how people resisted becoming one of the infected, and then how the apocalypse ended and humanity survived.

As for writing style, each survivors’ narrative is presented like a journal article with an introductory blurb placed before the narrative. The blurb introduces the survivor as well as gives some background to the narrative which follows it. The narratives are first person accounts of what the survivor experienced during the zombie apocalypse.

The format and writing style of World War Z may put off some readers, but frankly it works. It works well. In fact, each account reminds me of various human rights journal articles or accounts from people who have lived in some of the countries currently under strife. If you wanted to write a story and make the reader believe the events already happened, this is the format and style to take. Some may think it’d be hard to read a novel with too many narratives, but I found it quite easy to read from one narrative to the next. At the end of each narrative, I found myself wondering what the next account would be about.

This format for the novel also presents the reader with not just one story, but many smaller ones. You’ll read about a doctor in China, a soldier in Vermont, a computer geek in Japan, and various others. Each narrative isn’t random, however. Each narrative helps to explain the overall story and there are interconnecting threads between various narratives. Each individual story helps make up the whole.

While reading World War Z, I felt as if one had taken key pieces out of every other zombie story ever told as well as key pieces out of every apocalypse story every told. Brooks has thought through a lot of scenarios that someone may have to face in the event of an apocalypse or global war. He’s also thought about how various social groups might react. I felt that Brooks either did a lot of research or just knew much about different world cultures. For example, he describes the Japanese kami as well as the disparity between China’s city-folk and village-folk. Also, I thought Brooks described the political scenarios quite accurately.

Some may pick fault with Brooks for not having an explanation in the novel for the zombie outbreak, but I think this may be realistic. It takes a while to determine the origins of a disease. Some may recall when A.I.D.S. was first discovered. People were infected with a disease, but doctors didn’t know exactly why the people were being infected. “In the early days, the CDC did not have an official name for the disease, often referring to it by way of the diseases that were associated with it…” (See “HIV/AIDS”.) Later, it was called A.I.D.S. World War Z is less about providing an explanation for zombies, but more about the human spirit to survive.

To sum up World War Z, I’d say it has heart, brains, and brawn – all of which are required for humanity to survive.

(Note: Some readers may be wondering, so I thought I’d address this now. Yes, I read this book before watching the movie version. In fact, this book has been lying on my bookshelf for a good while before the movie was announced. When it comes to movies based on books, I prefer to read the book first because I like to know what the original creator of the story intended. After, I will review a movie based on other factors than for a book. This is simply because movies and books while both intending on telling a story do so in different ways. They are different mediums, and therefore have different techniques and methods for telling a story and for being artistic. That being said, I did watch World War Z and the jury is still out. There’s supposed to be a sequel later, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens in it.)

My site: feyMorgaina.

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Book Review: Fires of Azeroth by C.J. Cherryh

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Fires of Azeroth by C.J. Cherryh is the third book in The Morgaine Saga omnibus. In this story, Morgaine and Vanye travel to a world where Qhal and Man co-exist peacefully. However, Morgaine and Vanye are pursued by their enemies from the previous story and it’s only a matter of time before their enemies bring disaster to this peaceful world where Morgaine and Vanye have taken refuge. Morgaine has not forgotten her mission though. However, this peaceful world has a few secrets of its own.

While Fires of Azeroth isn’t the ultimate conclusion to Morgaine’s mission, it concludes Vanye’s story. Indeed, The Morgaine Saga is much more about Vanye’s personal quest and development than about Morgaine’s mission. If anything, Morgaine’s mission allows Vanye’s character to grow. The fact that Morgaine’s mission has not yet been completed might be the reason why nearly ten years later C.J. Cherryh wrote a fourth novel, Exile’s Gate, for the series.

Overall, The Morgaine Saga is an interesting read. There is more sense of completion having read all the books in the omnibus than just the first novel. The only criticism I have is that Morgaine’s universe feels quite empty. I realize this may be because she is travelling through the Gates in order to close or destroy them, but I keep wondering why she ends up on worlds that have very little or no advanced technology besides the Gates and items related to the Gates. Cherryh does a decent job of character-building in this series, but I think that there could be more world-building. I also wonder what’s happening back at the Union Science Bureau.

In any case, I’m not sure if I’m going to read Exile’s Gate. I wanted to read this omnibus since it was Cherryh’s early writing. The other novels written in the same time period are Brothers of Earth and Hunter of Worlds. I, however, am wanting to get back to her Alliance-Union Universe with the novel Merchanter’s Luck.

For my review of Gate of Ivrel, see “Book Blog”.
For my review of Well of Shiuan, see “Book Blog”.

Review: Gormenghast

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Gormenghast
Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gormenghast is the sequel to Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan. Titus Groan is the 77th Earl of Gormenghast. In Gormenghast, we follow Titus’ upbringing starting from the age of seven. Titus was age two at the end of Titus Groan; thus, some time has elapsed between novels. Gormenghast starts out by accounting for those who died in the previous novel and those who are still living. At this point, everyone in the novel is still unaware as to who the mastermind is behind the tragedies in the previous novel. Life continues on in Gormenghast, but with this eerie feeling that something tragic might happen again.

I read Titus Groan back in 2008. I started Gormenghast afterwards simply because I was curious about what would happen to Titus Groan. It took me quite a while to finish Gormenghast simply because I kept getting bored early on. Even after finishing the novel, I’m still not entirely sure how important some of the passages were. Indeed, some of the characters aren’t even integral to the conclusion of the story. Yet despite this criticism, there’s something to be said for Peake’s writing. It’s brilliant. When you’re not bored by wondering why you’re reading about this character and what’s his importance, you can get quite lost in Peake’s writing. Obviously, it’s easier to do when you’re reading about a character you’re interested in (i.e., Titus Groan) or when reading about the main plot (“got to catch that villain”). As I wrote previously, “I think I am still wrapping my head around the gothic eeriness of Mervyn Peake’s story.” (See “Book Nook”) Towards the end of the novel, you get a good sense of Titus Groan. He is a tragic character in a way. Although he’s lived through tragedies, it’s clear they have an impact on him emotionally.

The final novel in this trilogy is Titus Alone. At first I thought I would read the whole trilogy, but I’m not sure about the final novel. Gormenghast did seem to drag a little in some places, and that makes me hesitant to read the third novel. I think it will just depend on how much I want to find out what happens next to Titus Groan.

For my review of Titus Groan, see “Recently Read and Currently Reading”.

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Review: Star Wars Allegiance

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Star Wars  Allegiance
Star Wars Allegiance by Timothy Zahn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars: Allegiance tells the story of a young Mara Jade and the desertion of five stormtroopers. Mara Jade is serving Emperor Palpatine as the Emperor’s Hand, comparable to James Bond’s role as a secret service agent. Mara Jade is still young though – only eighteen. She is idealistic and somewhat naive (especially in regards to the Emperor).

Daric LaRone is one of the five stormtroopers who desert. He has started to question whether the Empire actually cares about its citizens. Four other stormtroopers desert with him after LaRone’s altercation with an ISB (Imperial Security Bureau) officer. Like Mara Jade, the five stormtroopers are idealistic.

This story takes place after the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, but before The Empire Strikes Back. During this story, Luke does not yet know that Darth Vader is his father. Luke also does not know that Leia is his sister (on whom he seems to have a crush, at least from Han Solo’s perspective). Luke has not yet visited Yoda, but is carrying his lightsaber at his side (this is important since as far as most people know, the Jedi were wiped out; the only person known to wield a lightsaber is Darth Vader, as well as the Emperor’s Hand, according to rumours). Han Solo has not fully committed to the Rebel Alliance, although he’s agreed to help out with their mission in this story. Leia is still working with the Rebel Alliance and in this novel is attempting to recruit another world to their cause. Leia’s home world, Aldaraan, has been destroyed.

The location in this story is Shelsha sector, Luke and Han are sent there to investigate raids on the Rebel Alliance’s shipments (covert shipments, of course) while Leia is sent to Shelsha sector to meet with its governor in hopes of persuading him to join the Rebel cause. Mara Jade is sent to Shelsha sector to investigate its governor, while the five stormtroopers happen to be in that sector after deserting. LaRone and the other four stormtroopers are trying to stay hidden, but find they can’t help getting involved when citizens are attacked by swoop gangs and raiders. Darth Vader is obsessively trying to find Luke, and ends up in Shelsha sector as well. Considering the scenarios, it isn’t surprising to the reader that some of the main characters eventually meet up with each other.

Like his previous Star Wars novels, Zahn skillfully weaves together multiple plotlines. He never gets bogged down with explaining the different plotlines, and consequently keeps a fast pace to the story.

One key reason to read this Star Wars novel is to get a glimpse of Mara Jade while she was serving the Emperor. She’s smart and sassy, but somehow very loyal to the Emperor. When Zahn created the character of Mara Jade, it could have been easy for him to simply write her as a female Jedi, in contrast to Luke; or as a female Sith, in contrast to Darth Vader. Interestingly, she isn’t either of those. Mara Jade’s role is significantly different than Darth Vader’s. While Vader is busy force-choking his enemies, Mara Jade is cleverly finding ways to implicate her targets. In contrast to Luke, Mara Jade sees killing her opponent as a potential necessity. Luke would rather not kill anyone – ever. Recall who actually does kill the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi. In this comparison, Mara Jade is hardly naive – Luke is. Mara Jade is only naive when it comes to the Emperor, which can be explained easily when the Emperor is considered to be Mara Jade’s surrogate father. (Though, when Mara Jade and Luke finally meet, the score might be more even. At that point, it’s Mara Jade the Smuggler, who is probably more of a female Han Solo.)

Star Wars: Allegiance is an exciting read. It’s another Timothy Zahn story worthy of the name Star Wars.

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Book Blog

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Book blog time again.

I still need to get into the habit of writing a book review right after I read a book.

I finally got around to finish reading China: Its History and Culture by W. Scott Morton and Charlton M. Lewis. It’s a good overview of the history of China. I picked up this book for two reasons. One was for the overview of key events in China’s history. The second reason was because I wanted to know how the history affected Chinese culture. For each era (or dynasty, in most of the cases), this book does a good job of presenting key historic events and discussing aspects of the culture. The only drawback to this book is that the second half of the book is devoted to events in the 20 century leading up to the new millennium. This might have been unavoidable though since we know more about recent historic events than we do about events in the distant past. Overall though, this book gives the reader a good idea of how China came to be the country it is today. After finishing this book, the reader should have a good sense of the character of China.

As for fiction, below is a list of books I read recently:

Circus of the Damned by Laurell K. Hamilton
Well of Shiuan (as part of The Morgaine Saga omnibus) by C.J. Cherryh
Spell of the Witch World by Andre Norton (consists of three short stories – “Dragon Scale Silver”, “Dream Smith”, “Amber Out of Quayth”)

Circus of the Damned is Hamilton’s third novel in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. Once again, Anita Blake has to stave off a supernatural threat. Like her first two Anita Blake novels, this story moves at a good pace. Hamilton keeps the story moving and there’s loads of action and excitement. Of course, Anita solves the case by the end of the novel, but does she solve any of her own issues? Not quite. Circus of the Damned is another enjoyable read for those who love the urban fantasy genre. As part of a series, it will be interesting to see how the character Anita Blake develops.

Well of Shiuan by C.J. Cherryh is the sequel to Gate of Ivrel. In Well of Shiuan, the two main characters, Morgaine and Vanye, travel to a world facing annihilation (by flooding). It turns out to be directly caused by events in the past, in which Morgaine was involved. Determined to finish her mission to close all the Gates, Morgaine continues to deal with the consequences of her past actions. Meanwhile, Vanye has to learn that he can’t save everyone and that each person has his/her own destiny.

Spell of the Witch World is classic Andre Norton. If you’re a fan of classic fantasy (that is, swords and sorcery), Andre Norton is highly recommended. Somehow Norton is able to engage the reader in even the simplest of stories. “Dragon Scale Silver” is about a sister who, after having a premonition of her brother heading into danger, decides to rescue him herself. “Dream Smith” is a cute tale about a deformed blacksmith who crafts a dream world for him and the frail young woman with whom he is enamoured. Lastly, “Amber Out of Quayth” tells the story of how a woman escapes the prison of her arranged marriage.

Training Blog (as of May 9, 2013)

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Running, 1 mile

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ran to the gym, half mile
Cycling 20 minutes 7.3 miles 120 calories
Chin-ups (military – overhand; counterweight) 50
Parallel pull-ups (counterweight) 50
Dips (counterweight) 40
Lateral pull-down 62.5
Seated leg curl 52.5 each leg
Decline leg press 90
Squats 90
Chest press 8/8 (dumbbells)
Pectoral fly 8/8 (dumbbells)
Rear deltoids 8/8 (dumbbells)
Shoulder press 10/10 (dumbbells)
Front shoulder lifts 10/10 (dumbbells)
Bicep curls 10/10 (dumbbells)
Wrist strengthening 12/12 (right arm weaker)
Wrist twirls 12/12
Pushups set of 15
Ran most of the way home

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Stayed home. I did a few exercises with the weights I have at home. I need to buy a pair of 8 pounds dumbbells and a pair of 12 pounds.
Rear deltoids 5/5 (dumbbells)
Lateral raise 5/5 (dumbbells)
Shoulder press (machine) 10/10 (dumbbells)
Front shoulder lifts 5/5 (dumbbells)
Bicep curls 10/10 (dumbbells)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Running, half mile to the gym
Cycling 20 minutes 7.26 miles 121 calories
Seated leg curl 52.5 each leg
Running 1 mile, then headed home
(I got to the gym late. I forgot it closes an hour and a half earlier than on Mondays through Thursdays. I did some exercises at home after.)
Rear deltoids 5/5 (dumbbells)
Lateral raise 5/5 (dumbbells)
Shoulder press 10/10 (dumbbells)
Front shoulder lifts 10/10 (dumbbells)
Bicep curls 10/10 (dumbbells)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Running, covered 1 mile and then a bit extra
Later, did a long walk downtown for a sushi buffet!
(I ended up getting weird muscles cramps in my foot that night after I feel asleep. It’s been a while since I ran or even walked that much. LOL. I had a cramp in my shin while the muscles at the bottom of my foot was cramped. I couldn’t point my toes, but I had to push my foot forward – think of the foot position while wearing high heels. The cramping went away after a little while of careful massaging. Then later, I had a Charlie Horse in the other leg. LOL… really did not get enough exercise prior to that day.)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Running, half mile out, then half mile back home

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Running, half mile to the gym
Cycling 20 minutes 7.3 miles 97 calories
Chin-ups (military – overhand; counterweight) 50
Pull-ups (underhand; counterweight) 50
Parallel pull-ups (counterweight) 50
Dips (counterweight) 40
Lateral pulldown 60
Seated leg curl 52.5 each leg
Hip adductor 100
Hip abductor 90
Decline leg press 90
Squats 90
Chest press 8/8 (dumbbells)
Pectoral fly 8/8 (dumbbells)
Rear deltoids 8/8 (dumbbells)
Lateral raise 8/8 (dumbbells)
Shoulder press 10/10 (dumbbells)
Front shoulder lifts 10/10 (dumbbells)
Bicep curls 12/12 (dumbbells)
Wrist strengthening 12/12 (right arm weaker)
Wrist twirls 12/12
Back strengthening (weighted) 25
Leg lifts set of 24
TKD – poomsae and some kicks (back kicks)
(Unfortunately, I irritated my meniscus tear by doing a tornado kick. My fault though. I should have checked that my kicking alignment was correct. The knee and the ankle should always be aligned with each other. The problem I have is that my knee sometimes drifts inward during the kick. I think this is a natural tendency in that leg. I seem to recall ice skating that way when I was a kid. If only I knew to fix that back then. In any case, I’ll fix this by slowly doing the roundhouse kick motion until the muscles in my leg remembers the correct alignment again. This has happened before and like before it’s easily corrected.)

Studying Korean 한국어을 공부해요 – Some Sources for Beginners

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

I’ve been studying Korean off and on (with some intervals of intense studying) for a while now, so I thought I should do a quick blog about some of the materials and sources I’ve used and/or am currently using.

I started studying Korean using the Teach Yourself Korean book and audio files.  The book starts easy, but then it throws a lot of vocabulary halfway through. The dialogues are good for getting used to the flow of the language. The dialogues get longer and more comprehensive, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the problem of learning vocabulary in this book is tied to the use of romanization throughout the book.

Although the book spends a bit of time in the introduction teaching you the hangeul, the romanization is prevalent.  The romanization system used is based off of the McCune-Reischauer, but there is now a standard romanization system in South Korea called “Revised Romanization of Korean”. Consequently, the McCune Reischauer will be useless if you obtain Korean language learning materials using the new romanization. The Korean-English vocabulary at the back of the book is organized using romanization as well which is a little annoying once you’ve spent the time to learn the hangeul well. It is best to obtain a Korean-English dictionary that lists the Korean entries using hangeul and not the romanization.  There is no hangeul next to the Korean entries in the vocabulary at the end.

In each unit, the dialogue is given in hangeul with the romanization following the dialogue, while the English translations of dialogues are found at the end of the book.  The list of phrases and expressions in each unit is given in romanization only, which makes it annoying to look up the phrases when you are reading the dialogue using hangeul. It also makes the learner prone to learning the phrase only using romanization which means that when the learner comes across it while reading a later dialogue in Korean, the learner won’t immediately recognize the phrase or expression.

The vocabulary list in each unit does include the hangeul, but second to the romanization. It’s not easy to ignore the romanization when looking at the vocabulary as native English speakers automatically read English where it’s present. The romanization makes it hard to learn the Korean vocabulary when the learner just wants to learn the vocabulary using hangeul, not romanization. Basically, it was helpful at first, but once the learner has a good handle on hangeul, the romanization just turns into a big crutch. Romanization is best used as a pronunciation guide, not what the Korean language learner should be reading.

The book has grammar points throughout, but no grammar summary at the back. Since I’ve decided to learn another language (I studied French in school), I’ve noticed that I will go look at a grammar summary because it gives me an idea of what to expect from the language. Some grammar points could be explained better, but this book does a decent job with the grammar. For a study of grammar indepth, I think it’s better to find a source concentrating on it.

This book provides a decent introduction to Korean language and culture, but once you get used to the hangeul, I’d recommend switching to a book with no romanization (I used Active Korean 1 - see below) as the romanization detracts from practicing reading hangeul. I suppose there are those who don’t care to learn the hangeul, who only want to speak the language and understand what they are hearing, in which case these people will love having the romanization (for them, this book is a good recommendation). However, I don’t see the point in not learning how to read a language. Korean is an Asian language, but it is not Chinese. The Korean writing system is technically phonetic (while the Chinese isn’t), although the words are put in syllable blocks (similar to the Chinese system). The hangeul isn’t that difficult to learn and there is an explanation as to why the language is written the way it is (see “Origin of Hangul”).

This book would be better if either:

a) they include hangeul with the list of phrases and expressions, and in the vocabulary at the end of the book; they put the hangeul first and the romanization second in the vocabulary list; they include hangeul in the grammar sections; they put more exercises in hangeul (I ended up skipping most of the exercises because the answers were in romanization – I wrote them out in Korean); and they drop the romanization at some point (maybe a quarter of the way through); they could keep the romanization after the dialogue as long as it doesn’t interfere with reading the dialogue in hangeul (I’m aware that a learner might use it to check if they are reading the dialogues correctly);

or

b) they put in more exercises to help learn the hangul and replace the romanization throughout the book with hangeul; they could keep the romanization after the dialogue.

This material is not ideal for anyone who knows the hangeul well as the romanization is a hindrance more than an aid at that point. The most anyone with proficiency reading Korean could use this material for is to practice reading and listening to the dialogues. They may want to read the grammar points, but there is romanization in the grammar explanations not hangeul, and there are better grammar books on Korean available (I’ll cover a few of them below).

Since I was a little frustrated with the persistent romanization in the Teach Yourself Korean, I switched to using something with no romanization. Active Korean 1 is a good beginner book that teaches you the hangeul upfront and has a decent amount of vocabulary without having the learner feel overwhelmed. The material is put together by Seoul National University Language Institute. There are grammar points throughout as well as a grammar summary at the end. The exercises are straightforward, and there is some effort to make learning the language fun. This book is great for practising reading Korean. It will be pretty easy to get through if one already knows the hangeul. I highly recommend this for beginners.

After Active Korean 1, I went through Korean Through English 1. This material was also put together by Seoul National University Language Institute. It consists of a little more material than Active Korean 1 and contains good explanations of the dialogues on the audio tracks. It teaches the hangeul first, and there is a good amount of exercises to go through before digging into the dialogues. There is a glossary of the Korean vocabulary at the end. The appendix includes a linguistics essay on the Korean language. Like Active Korean 1, this book is great for practising reading Korean and is pretty easy to get through if one already knows hangeul. I obtained an older version of this material and the audio files. I’m not sure if you can obtain audio files for the book listed on amazon.com, but if you can get the audio to go with the book, I recommend this material for beginners.

Some other beginner sources I have include:

  • My Korean 1 and 2 (text and audio)
  • Integrated Korean (beginner (text and audio), intermediate and advanced (audio only))
  • Colloquial Korean (book and audio)
  • Elementary Korean (book and audio) and Continuing Korean (book and audio)
  • Living Language Korean (book and audio)
  • Beginner’s Korean (book and audio)

I’m thinking of continuing my Korean studies with My Korean 1 and 2 (text and audio), which can be found online (see link just above). My Korean has romanization in the first unit, then the hangeul is taught in the second unit (using the Revised Romanization of Korean). Starting in unit three, romanization is dropped and is only provided for the dialogues after the dialogues along with the English translation. In this respect, My Korean is what Teach Yourself Korean could have been. I will have to see how well it explains grammar.

Of the materials listed above, Living Language Korean and Beginner’s Korean seem to be the least useful for me. Although Living Language Korean teaches the hangeul and does not use romanization after lesson five, I felt that it did not give a good explanation of the grammar points in the first lesson. It doesn’t explain honorifics and speech levels well and confuses honorifics with formal speech level. In the first lesson, one of the exercises is to fill in the topic particle, but one of the answers is a subject particle instead. In terms of amount of vocabulary, Living Language Korean is similar to Teach Yourself Korean, in fact it has quite a bit of vocabulary in the first lesson. If I get a chance to use this material, it will be for practising reading and listening Korean and for vocabulary build-up. I will probably either ignore the grammar in the text or skim it; and I’m not confident about the exercises being well designed.

As for Beginner’s Korean, it uses romanization (Revised Romanization of Korean) throughout. In fact, it’s more of a nuisance as the romanization is put right below each line of dialogue (Living Language Korean uses this format for the dialogues in the first five lessons). The vocabulary in the lessons and at the end of the material is listed with hangeul first, which is better than in Teach Yourself Korean. As for grammar, it has grammar points throughout and a grammar summary at the end. This might be useful for a review of grammar points. While listening to the dialogues is always good practice, I probably won’t use this material to practice reading Korean since the romanization is right below each line of dialogue.

In regards to listening material for languages, I’ve heard about Pimsleur and have seen it in the bookstores, but as posted in “Pimsleur Language Programs – Save Your Money”, I think the Pimsleur material will be a waste of time for me considering there are other good sources for studying Korean. In fact, I think it’s more likely I’ll use the Korean for Dummies as listening material before I use the Pimsleur material. I almost forgot about Korean for Dummies. It is definitely not recommended for learning Korean if you want to know how to read Korean. It does not teach you hangeul and the book uses only romanization. It’s kind of funny that it puts in a pronunciation guide next to the romanization. That being said, it’s a mite better than the Pimsleur Korean material as it’s cheaper and has more content than the Pimsleur material. In any case, I doubt I’ll use the Korean for Dummies any time soon (although I suppose it could have interesting tidbits about Korean culture throughout).

I also should not forget about Rosetta Stone. I definitely think it’s worth using, but in conjunction with other learning materials.

That’s about all the beginner Korean material I have to mention for now. I have some other material that I would consider intermediate to advanced, and I have yet to get to that material.

If you’re really into Korean and making your way through whatever material you’re using, you will definitely need a good Korean-English dictionary. This will be difficult as you should get a Korean-English dictionary that lists Korean entries using hangeul and not romanization. The problem that exists is that so far there aren’t many Korean-English dictionaries listing entries in native Korean that have extensive vocabulary on that side of the dictionary. This is the case with the Hippocrene Practical Dictionary Korean-English English-Korean. It just doesn’t have enough Korean entries. The Collins Gem Korean Dictionary is a better option. A Korean dictionary by Samuel E. Martin, Yang Ha Lee, and Sun-Un Chang was published in 1967 by Yale University, and is a must for Korean language studies. It uses the Yale romanization for the pronunciation guide.

If you have to settle for a romanized Korean-English dictionary, I use Berlitz’s Korean Concise Dictionary. As long as you are willing to learn the McCune-Reischauer romanization, it has a good amount of entries. I originally bought this dictionary to help me with Teach Yourself Korean. I use it now when I can’t find an entry in Martin’s A Korean Dictionary or in the Collins Gem one.

For grammar, I’m currently making my way through Basic Korean: A Grammar and Workbook by Andrew Sangpil Byon. Then, I will make my way through Intermediate Korean: A Grammar and Workbook by the same author. I also found 500 Basic Korean Verbs quite useful for explaining speech levels, honorific verb form, along with verb tenses, and a variety of verb endings. It uses the Revised Romanization of Korean instead of listing verbs by native Korean, but this appears the only good book out on Korean verbs. A couple of other Korean grammar books to look out for are A Reference Grammar of Korean by Samuel E. Martin and Korean: A Comprehensive Grammar by Jaehoon Yoon and Lucien Brown.

Finally, the last few materials I have are flashcards – Tuttle Korean for Kids Flashcards and Tuttle More Korean for Kids Flashcards. I found these two packages at a used bookstore, so I thought I’d give them a try. They, unfortunately, have romanization on them on the front, but at least the Korean is in larger print than the romanization. The flashcards Korean in a Flash is ideal for anyone who is serious about learning to read Korean and a good addition to your current Korean material. I will have to get these at some point.

안녕히 가세요!
~~~C

Pimsleur Language Programs – Save Your Money

Friday, February 1st, 2013

I finished with a couple of Korean language learning sources recently and am trying to decide on which one to use next.

I decided to listen to a bit of the Pimsleur Korean. The audio track took at least six minutes to teach me one sentence in Korean. That’s right – at least six minutes. (I don’t know exactly how long the audio was going to go on about the one sentence because by about the six minute mark I was extremely bored and wanted much more new material already.) I understand that the method they are using in the material is designed to ensure precise pronunciation of the language and that the learner will sound like a native speaker (though I’m not sure if the pronunciation is that precise or that you will sound like a native speaker when they are teaching you to speak soooo sloooowly), but I’m pretty sure I learned 안녕 하세요 (annyeong haseyo) in a shorter amount of time. It’s not that hard to pick up the pronunciation. Spending six minutes to learn one sentence is definitely a waste of time for me when I could probably learn between five and ten full expressions as well as understand the basics of their grammatical construction, not just intuitively know the grammar rules and constraints. I agree with the amazon reviewer who posted (see the first link above) “promises pie in the sky but delivers very little”. He further says

I agree with the reader from New Zealand: these tapes is for beginners. Most of the material on these tapes I learned my first year in Korea.

The product comes with a brochure, telling the consumer all about how wonderful the product is and what a brilliant scholar Dr. Pimsleur is. According to this brochure, ‘extensive research has shown that we actually need a comparatively limited number of words to be able to communicate effectively in any language.’ That is not true. According to a word frequency chart compiled at Yonsei University in Seoul, it takes 3000 words to read 85% of written Korean. It takes 6000 to raise that to 90%.

In short, the Pimsleur language material is over-priced for the amount of content covered. Other sources cover more material for a lot less cost and probably a lot less time wasted. Teach Yourself books and audio materials are a good starting point for some languages as well as being a lot cheaper than Pimsleur, and you can always shop around amazon.com for more material (or use tpb).

If you really need something to practice pronunciation, I recommend Rosetta Stone. It’s more immersive than the Pimsleur materials since Rosetta Stone is computer program. It does have its drawbacks too. It is expensive as well, but probably more worth it than the Pimsleur material, especially if you are learning more than one language. You can also maybe have someone procure a copy for you (university students may have access to it and might be able to give you a copy for personal use). Rosetta Stone doesn’t teach grammar (at least not Korean grammar) as well as other sources, but it at least provides feedback on how well your pronunciation is. There is occasionally the technical difficulty of your microphone not picking you up well, but that can be resolved by reducing how accurate you need to be for the program to consider your pronunciation as “correct”. (A side note: a funny albeit annoying thing about Rosetta Stone is its tendency to occasionally cut you off and tell you you’re wrong (“beep!”) before you finish speaking. When that happens, maybe just restart the program and do the microphone setup again in the program.) The thing I like about Rosetta stone is the use of pictures. That is how children learn language as well. Remember pointing at something as a child and your mom, dad, or older sibling will tell you what it is? That’s how Rosetta stone works. It shows you pictures, then tells you what it is. Obviously that can turn into a “mix and match” game. It also has the pure listening practice, along with reading and writing practice for the language you’re studying. A plus about Rosetta Stone for Korean is that there is no romanization. :-D (The Korean writing system is actually phonetic, so continuing to use romanization after you’ve learned the pronunciation is a bad habit. The romanization is a crutch – one needs to start walking and running.)

Luckily for me, I managed to procure the Pimsleur Korean material without dishing out an arm and a leg for it. I happened across it and I wasn’t really looking for it. Now, I just don’t know what to do with it lol. Maybe, if I run out of other Korean material (I don’t think that’s going to happen soon lol), which reminds me that I probably should post a blog about some of the Korean material I have used already.

~~~C